It’s not hard to share the excitement when you talk with Conner Kujak about the restoration of his 1960 Buick Invicta Custom. He describes the history of the car, it’s rarity, and the ‘60s technology that was incorporated into the vehicles of that era. For any true car enthusiast, the Buick provides for some great conversation.
But while it’s not unusual for most gearheads to talk at length about their favorite rides, one thing stands out with Kujak that is hard to escape. He’s 19 years old. A “babe in arms” by gearhead standards. Someone who must have been born in the wrong era, right?
Kujak, who lives in Chaska, Minnesota, didn’t grow up on a steady diet of car “stuff.” He admits he may have been influenced by his collection of Hot Wheels when he was 4 or 5, but generally he didn’t have the family or peer pressure to get involved.
“My dad isn’t a car guy,” he explains, “and I think I just got interested in the classic cars from those Hot Wheels. I wanted to know what they really looked like.”
So the saga began for a young Kujak who was amazed that cars of the ‘50s and ‘60s looked so different from year to year. By age 12 he was recognizing specific makes and models. By 15 he said he was also able to identify cars from the 1940s to the ‘70s and that fascination grew to include the cultural themes of those eras.
Kujak was realistic in his growing interest.
“I knew restoring any vehicle was probably out of my budget, so I just tried to learn as much as I could and talk with car owners to get their stories.”
But then he saw the car across the street from his great grandmother’s house in Plankinton, South Dakota.
“We live about five hours from Plankinton, which is about 700 people,” he explains. “When I was about 15 I was there one day and saw a car sitting behind the house across the street and I thought I would check it out.”
He went to the door to inquire about the car, which turned out to be a 1960 Buick Invicta Custom, one of only 700 hardtops built, and exactly the type of vehicle that was filling his youthful imagination.
The owner of the house, Jean Kern, explained the car had been his mother’s and belonged to his son, Dan. Kujak was determined to know as much as he could about the car and eventually convinced Dan that he should sell it to the budding enthusiast.
“I told him I would make certain to give him a ride when I got the car finished. That got him to agree to sell it.”
Kujak then had to convince his father, the “not such a car guy,” to let him trailer the hulk home, place it in the family garage and proceed to completely disassemble it to begin its restoration.
At the time, Kujak was in the final years of high school. He and close friend Andrew McGinnis decided to restore the Buick as a capstone project required for graduation. The school committee charged with approving such projects was less enthused, but finally approved, though it also required a lot of paperwork.
“The car was in pretty sad shape including everything in the interior,” Kujak explains. “The dashboard has an instrument panel that Buick called the Mirromagic that used a mirror to reflect the actual speedometer and various gauge lights. It could be adjusted to the driver’s vision and was just one of the really cool things this car had in its design.”
“We had to create a 32-page report about how we created the lenses including the color of the material, it’s light sensitivity and fade resistance.”
Kujak put together a computer file needed to 3D print the lenses and produced not only the lenses but the rare pushbuttons on the car’s radio.
“I figured while I was working on the lenses and had access to the equipment, it would be good to get those replaced as well.”
The project was completed (with an “A” grade) and Kujak decided he would use the car for one more requirement… his senior project.
“I’ve researched everything about the car,” he explains, “so I decided to create another project that documents the design and production of the 1960 Buick Invicta Custom.”
The final report (some 35 pages in length) shows everything you could ever want to know about this Buick, but also reflects Kujak’s ambition to bring the car back to life.
“It was in pretty sad shape, having sat behind Jean’s house for over 20 years and Jean thought it had also sat on a farm for an additional 15-20 years after his mother quit driving it.”
Once home, the major work began to separate the chassis, drivetrain and body sheet metal. The frame, sans engine and transmission, was sent off to be media blasted and cleaned while the engine and transmission headed another direction for rebuilding.
“The body, overall, is pretty solid,” Kujak says. “We had to track down new front floor pans and Andrew has been handling the welding chores along with his dad, Scott, who is providing advice and help as needed.”
For anyone who has begun a car restoration, it seems like these projects take on a life of their own. Kujak graduated high school in 2017 and is studying biology (with possible pre-med or pre-dentistry in the future) at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. But he takes whatever time he can away from studies, including this summer, to toil on the Buick.
The body is nearing completion of its preparation for paint following media blasting and some repair. He says more sanding is needed to get it to a final “ready to paint” condition and he has someone lined up to apply a deep blue color, hopefully close to what the car had when it left the factory.
The chassis has been painted and the newly rebuilt engine and transmission are in place, but nothing more has been done with such things as wiring, cooling system, fuel, brakes, etc.
“I’ve refinished the rear end and it will be installed so we can move the car once the body is placed back on the frame.”
The Buick’s glass has been replaced except for the expansive back glass which Kujak says is in good shape.
“I wanted to keep at least some of the original glass, if possible.”
But there is plenty of detailed work yet to be completed. Kujak has polished the stainless trim, had the front bucket seats re-covered in the original blue and white material and design, and has cleaned and refurbished what is turning out to be hundreds of small pieces needed to complete the drivetrain, the interior and the sheet metal.
“It’s a long process,” he says, “but it will be worth it when I finally get it running and can give Dan (the former owner) a ride and begin sharing it with others at car shows.”
And for those old timers wondering about the future of the car hobby, they can look to Kujak for where things are headed.
“I find the ‘50s and ‘60s eras just fascinating,” he says. “What better way to step back in time than like this.”